Advocates Urge International Energy Agency to Remove Paywalls, Open Access to Data 

March 4, 2022 by Reece Nations
<strong>Advocates Urge International Energy Agency to Remove Paywalls, Open Access to Data </strong>

BERKELEY, Calif. — Organizations including the Breakthrough Institute and Third Way joined open data advocates in calling for the International Energy Agency to share its data hidden behind paywalls.

In a letter sent on Thursday, a group of 64 organizations and advocates urged IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol to revise its policies on publicly sharing its repositories of scientific, economic and logistical data relating to climate change. Doing so, they contend, would spur both the public and systems analysts to research and better comprehend net‑zero and net‑negative energy systems.

“Three decades of research have shown that we, as a global human society, need to rapidly transition to net-zero — and ultimately net-negative — emissions, in order to avoid severe outcomes from a changing climate,” the text of the letter read. “The majority of anthropogenic emissions are related to energy conversion and use in some form or another — and particularly through the unabated use of fossil fuels. Besides climate change, energy conversion processes can be major contributors to other types of environmental and human harm, including local air pollution.”

Because pathways to transition to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions rely on high-quality datasets like the ones received and collated by IEA and its member countries, the advocates maintain preventing open access to the data will ultimately lead to net-zero transition pathways that are both more costly and less effective than they otherwise should have been.


IEA could foster a better understanding of how anthropogenic emissions from fossil fuels relate to energy conversion if they chose to publicly release data hidden behind its paywalls, coordinating author and associate director of nuclear innovation at the Breakthrough Institute Adam Stein wrote in the letter.


The mission to convince IEA to unlock its data was expounded upon by Our World in Data founder and director Max Roser and its head of research Hannah Ritchie in an October 2021 article published on the organization’s site. In the article, Roser and Ritchie propose IEA raise its member country’s annual contributions to offset its lost revenue from the paywalls, which they contend is too small to justify the downsides of the data restrictions.

In an article on the issue published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature, Roser noted that even discounted paywall rates discourage researchers and policy experts in poorer countries from accessing the data. Energy ministries of the world’s richest countries who are the predominant funders of IEA estimate the agency raises around one-fifth of its operating costs through paywalls.

Additional cosigners of the letter include the Carnegie Mellon University Graduate Student Assembly, the Clean Energy Buyers Association, Catalyst Cooperative, Energy for Growth, the Fastest Path to Zero Initiative, the Good Energy Collective, the Nuclear Energy Institute and the Nuclear Innovation Alliance, among others.


“Open access to high quality and comprehensive energy-related data is essential to an efficient and equitable transition to clean energy while also enabling rapid response to global crises,” Stein said in a written statement shared with The Well News. “Anyone who currently wants access to this energy data has to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to access one dataset. This serves as an unnecessary barrier and makes research and scientific inquiry more expensive.”

Reece can be reached at [email protected]

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